Lesson Plan: Sharing Dr. Bryce’s Story

By: Leah Judd

Leah Judd

Education Collaborator

Leah Judd has a passion for teaching Social Studies.  Working in Sechelt, BC, Leah has been lucky to work with students who embrace inquiry learning and created locker museum displays during the pandemic to share their curated stories with the school community.  Leah shares her enthusiasm for Social Studies as editor of Salon, an online quarterly publication from the Social Studies Educators Network of Canada @ssencressc

You can download a PDF copy of this lesson here:

Suggested Subject Areas

Social Studies
Indigenous Studies

Grade Level

Adaptable across 9-12 / Sec V

Driving Task

Imaging a play depicting the struggle of Dr. Bryce’s attempts to have health recommendations for residential schools implemented after his report to the federal government in 1907 and again in 1922. How does Dr. Bryce’s story empower people today? How has his legacy been shaped, and how can we frame it for this play? Whose voices will we hear in this play, and from whose perspective will the narrative take? Remember to include Indigenous storytelling resources whenever possible, to collaborate meaningfully with local Indigenous communities as possible, and to ensure that Indigenous students are playing Indigenous roles.

Historical Context

Dr. Bryce was commissioned by the Government of Canada to visit, investigate and suggest public health recommendations for residential schools, which he delivered in 1907.  Rather than implement the regulations he suggested, the report was shelved. Dr. Bryce continued to push for changes in the provision of health standards and education at residential schools, by self-publishing his pamphlet The Story of a National Crime in 1922.  The legacy of his report and paper can still be determined by sharing different voices and viewpoints of those impacted by Dr. Bryce’s observations in 1907. 

Learning Outcomes

These outcomes are drawn from the British Columbia Social Studies 10 Curriculum, but can be adapted, removed, or added to to reflect any location and curriculum.

Students will be able to:

Guiding Questions

With Call to Action #63 in mind (Education for Reconciliation), wherein the TRC calls on Canada “to maintain an annual commitment to Aboriginal education issues, including:

  1. Developing and implementing Kindergarten to Grade Twelve curriculum and learning resources on Aboriginal peoples in Canadian history, and the history and legacy of residential schools.
  2. Sharing information and best practices on teaching curriculum related to residential schools and Aboriginal history.
  3. Building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect.”
Answering Through Drama

Students will create scenes in a live play or podcast (like a radio play) to present to other students. The focus will be Dr. Bryce’s struggle to have the Government of Canada follow through on his recommendations for equitable public health supports for Indigenous Peoples. Students will choose which voices need to be heard in this play, use primary sources to establish ‘scenes’ for the play, include both written and oral testimonies, and locate schools Dr. Bryce visited on a map. 

Additional Resources: Presenting Difficult Situations via Theatre

8 Men Speak

Let Them Howl


Children of God

Lesson Outline 

Territorial Acknowledgment

Theatre companies will sometimes deliver their territorial acknowledgments in a creative and active way. How can we use performance to deliver an acknowledgement that is purposeful and creative?

Read more here about developing territorial acknowledgements and check out Native Land Digital to learn more about the territory you live on.

Introduction (30-60 minutes)

Introduce Dr. Bryce and his work, especially his 1922 pamphlet The Story of a National Crime, to students by showing them the video Peter Bryce and The Story of a National Crime.

Follow up with this CBC article (and the Unreserved podcast episode, if you like): depending on your class, you can do a communal reading, read independently, or read in small groups.

Together with students, create a list of 3-5 key learnings about Dr. Bryce and The Story of a National Crime. This can be on chart paper, post-it notes, the chalkboard, etc.

In small groups, invite students to look at these responses to Dr. Bryce’s report, compiled by the First Nations Education Steering Committee. Be sure to remind students that they will encounter language and terms used historically that are not appropriate for non-Indigenous people to use in reference to Indigenous people. Have students take note of or discuss what stands out to them in these responses.

As additional or alternate resources for introducing Dr. Bryce and his reports, refer to:

Activity/Interactive/Group Discussion (3×45 minute classes)

Setting the Context

Introduce the drama assignment with the following questions:

These questions can be asked as a whole class discussion, by assigning 1-2 questions each to small groups of 3-5 students, or independently (students brainstorming about one, some, or all by themselves).

If it’s a nice day outside and there is accessible outdoor space, the teacher can also take the students outside to walk and talk while they loop around the school perimeter or field, or to sit together in a circle outside. On an inclement weather day or if outdoor space is not accessible, students could instead walk around the hallways or spill out into other indoor space. Then, students could return to a large group discussion upon returning to the classroom.

Writing Scenes for a Play or Podcast

After this discussion has concluded, the teacher will tell the students that they are going to write a play or a podcast about Dr. Bryce, his recommendations, the government’s response, and the publication of The Story of a National Crime in 1922.

As a whole class, students and teachers should collaboratively take time to:

Next, the teacher should decide on the creation of small groups of 3-4 for scene development, as works best for their students and classroom environment. Each of these small groups with research, write, and present one scene within the larger scope of the play. It is at the teacher’s discretion how student groups will choose or be assigned to specific scenes based on classroom context.

Based on the class criteria developed, students could record their scenes as video clips, audio clips, or prepare their scenes for live presentation, which could also be approached as reader’s theatre with a focus on reading the script aloud. If possible, students should have some space to work in different areas (inside or outside).

Important Teacher Considerations

To ensure the appropriate and thoughtful development and presentation of these scenes, students should not create sets or wear costumes. The voices of the stories are key, not visual representation or appropriation. As such, students should focus on embedding information from a multitude of sources, such as those shared above. There are also additional relevant resources from Indigenous educators, scholars, and knowledge keepers within the larger scope of the Bryce@100 project, such as Miles Morrisseau’s article “A National Crime,” Kaila Johnston’s article “Preventoriums at Residential Schools,” or Émilie Lebel’s series Residential Schools and the Destabilization of Social Determinants of Health.

If students are curious about what residential schools looked like, teachers can share age and stage appropriate photographs from archives such as the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at the University of British Columbia, or Library and Archives Canada.

If a teacher and their students have not previously talked about the importance of oral storytelling within Indigenous communities, this lesson is a great opportunity to explore the significance of orality and shared stories. Some potential resources to engage with are:

We Need to Talk About Bryce podcast

Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada: Oral Storytelling

Comox Valley Schools: Indigenous Education: Oral Tradition

Indigenous Corporate Training: 11 Things You Should Know About Indigenous Oral Traditions

Indigenous Foundations (University of British Columbia): Oral Traditions

And, as always, this is an opportunity to build ongoing and reciprocal relationships with Indigenous communities, nations, elders, and knowledge keepers, if the teacher or school has not already started doing so.

Opportunities for Differentiation and Extension

Presentation and Reflection (60-75 minutes)

Pre-Presentation Conversation

The teacher and students can collaboratively create reflection questions they want to answer individually and/or in their small presentation groups after the play/podcast sharing. These questions can be reflections on content included, inclusion of diverse voices and experiences, strength of the script, collaboration skills, organization and time management, etc. Students can engage with these questions in a notebook or on a Google Form, or other method that suits the classroom.

The teacher should support the class in honing the questions list down to 3-5 questions to support student attention and connection to the reflection task.

If the class is presenting to an external audience (e.g. other classes), the teacher and students should also determine together whether they want to gather feedback or reflections from that audience, and what kind of preparatory statement should be shared with the audience before they watch (i.e. advance notice of content). The class should also include the teachers from their audience groups in this process.


Time to present!

Reflection Time

If the audience is answering any feedback or reflection questions/prompts, they can do so either immediately after the experience or separately upon returning to their own classrooms—check in with the teachers of those audience groups about their insights on the timing and location of this.

After the audience leaves (either immediately after or during the next class period), students can answer the reflection questions as created before the performance.

Assessment (45-60 minutes)

The teacher should spend 5-10 minutes with each small group (i.e. each scene group), with a focus on the guiding questions and learning objectives for the task. The teacher might ask about:

If the teacher develops a rubric to evaluate student work, they should include the presentation itself, student knowledge as shared in this conversation, and student personal reflections from the prior step in the lesson, amongst other elements the teacher might be assessing in their classroom.